INTERVIEW: The Warsaw Indiana School Of Poetics

I got the chance to ask a few questions to some of Warsaw, Indiana’s most fruitful poets: Steve Henn, Oren Wagner and Kaveh Akbar. Together, the three make up the “semi-facetiously self-labeled Warsaw Indiana School of Poetics”. On Monday July 25th, 2011 starting at 8:30 they will be the featured readers at the Local’s Only Arts and Music Pub in Indianapolis. Go check em out.

Steve Henn is a resident of Warsaw, Indiana who recently published his first full-length release from NYQ Books Unacknowledged Legislations ( Henn has released many chapbooks including Subvert the Dominant Paradigm! and The Book of Nate and his poetry has appeared in numerous magazines including Staplegun, Nerve Cowboy, The New York Quarterly and others. He was co-editor of Fight These Bastards! and drums in the band Invisible Robots. Find him online: Buy his book:

Steve Henn

General Thad: Steve when did you first start writing poetry?

Steve Henn: the first poem I recall writing I sent off to Ranger Rick magazine in 4th or 5th grade. It didn’t get published. It was a nature poem. My mom showed it to my aunt. That embarrassed me.

GT: If you can remember, how bad was that poem?

SH: I don’t really recall the poem. I recall it not getting published. The first in a long line of rejections that continues to this day. Although I haven’t sent much out for awhile.

GT: You will be the featured reader on Monday in Indianapolis. What kind of a show should visitors expect?

SH: At the show at Locals Only I’m going to show a little range. They won’t all be funny poems. I think Oren’s reading new material. Don’t know about Kaveh. We’ll bring it. We’re decent writers and performers. We’ll do about 10 minutes each. I’m kicking off with “Have you ever been in Walmart?” and “When I peed myself at the Bob Dylan show.”

GT: In your most recent publication Unacknowledged Legislations, your poems generally have a humorous character to them. But you also have some very solemn pieces [“A Note to Dr. David Haines”, “Daydream” and “(Sigh)”]. Do such pieces have a place on the live stage?

SH: the comic stuff has tended to be my go-to stuff. I’m starting to experiment with reading the more poignant stuff too. I find if I hook ’em with a really good opener I can read anything and they’ll give it a chance. You’ve got to open with a kickass poem. For me that’s usually one that gets people laughing.

GT: If I’m not mistaken, the show on July 25th will also be a slam. Do you have one special poem that kills the crowd every time?

SH: We will not be participating in the slam. We’ll be the featured poets. Sometimes slams have an open mic, for people who are getting their feet wet, and then featured performers and a separate slam. So we won’t be competing. But as for a poem that kills “I am a Poet” and “I’m from Indiana” never do me wrong. I read both of those when I did the halftime show during the Butler finals game this past spring at Locals Only. I had to bring my A-game because there were a lot of people there for basketball, not so much for the poetry.

GT: What kinds of people usually come to poetry slams?

SH: all kinds of people come to poetry slams. In fact in my experience, having competed in a handful of slams, the more diverse the crowd, the more fun it is. The best slams are open to all kinds of poets and voices as well as all kinds of people walking through the door to check it out. It’s like a good church. Except there’s no collection basket, just a cover charge.

GT: What was one of the best/worst/most perplexing experiences that occurred at a live reading?

SH: At the old Maple Leaf Grille open mic in Warsaw, this guy stood up and started pointing and shouting at me, threatening to kick my ass, etc, when I read a satirical poem called “The Homosexual Agenda” that satirized the idea that gay people have a diabolical plan to take over, influence your children, etc. Just a month or two ago I talked to that guy in the bar. We made up. It was cute.

GT: If you could witness one event in history what would it be?

SH: If I could witness one event in history? Past event you mean? I don’t know. I’d probably give myself a ticket on the 50 yard line to the Catholics vs. Convicts ND/U of Miami game in the 80s. Yeah. Sports. You didn’t expect that did you? I’m that lame . . .

Oren Wagner is a former Warsonian who currently resides in Indianapolis. His first full-length release from NYQ Books Voluptuous Gloom came in 2009. His chapbook releases include My Life in the Former Colonies and The Last Redcoat. His Poetry has been seen in many magazines such as The New York Quarterly, Zen Baby, and Remark. Find him online: Buy his book:

Oren Wagner

GT: So you’ve got a show coming up with Steve Henn and Kaveh Akbar. What is your least favorite part about reading live with Kaveh and Steve?

Oren Wagner: My least favorite part of reading with Kaveh and Steve is probably feeling embarrassed that they keep hearing the same material from me. I admire the writing of Henn and Akbar, and the 2 of them push me to be as awesome as they are. They are so awesome they would not have ended that last sentence with a modal auxiliary like I did just now.

GT: Oren, you, Steve and Kaveh make up the Warsaw Indiana School of Poetics. What are some of the basic principles of this school and, most importantly, will there be a manifesto?

OW: I think between the brain bank of the Warsaw School of Poetics, we should be able to pen a manifesto. Steve’s maybe the most long winded of the 3 of us (in a good way) so I put the ball in his court. Basic principles of the WISP: being from Warsaw is important. I have no idea how Warsaw produced 3 New York Quarterly poets. Steve and I had a creative writing teacher named Jack Musgrave who was an integral person in my young life. He encouraged me to keep writing when, in retrospect, my writing was terrible, but he noticed a potential in my sad teenage poetry. After Musgrave retired, Henn took his spot and Kaveh is the harvest of Henn’s encouragement.

GT: Speaking as a member of the Warsaw Indiana School of Poetics, do you feel like a traitor now that you live in Indianapolis?

OW: No I don’t feel like a traitor for living in Indianapolis. I spent my first year of University in Colorado and transferred to Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis to study communications. It was my year in Colorado where I felt the first break through as a writer. I was involved with doing these open mics at my school and it forced me to be more mindful of writing poems to be read out loud. Poems to entertain. It was also in Colorado when I was first encouraged to submit my poems to various literary magazines. I had an unusual success rate in getting published. I think I went 3 years of submitting before I ever got my 1st rejection.

GT: Do you find it easier to write poetry in Indianapolis as opposed to writing in Warsaw?

OW: I guess when I was living in Warsaw I wrote more often. Maybe it was the boredom of nothing to do in such a small town other than hang out at Bob Evan’s, smoking cigarettes and writing poems on the back of placemats. I write far less than I ever have now. But I’m also writing far less throw away material as well. I’ve been working on my follow up book to Voluptuous Gloom. Another full length book. This time humor poems and prose poems. Also a chapbook is in the works, and a commissioned screenplay. Watch out. If the world doesn’t end in 2012, it’s gonna be a big year for Oren Wagner.

GT: On the backside of your 2009 release Voluptuous Gloom, there is simply one sentence: “You are beautiful.” What are the origins of this sentence?

OW: You are beautiful. I was thinking if I were to randomly pick this book up at a bookstore to check out, the back of it would be the 2nd thing I notice, being someone who totally judges a book by its cover… I would drop 15 bucks on a book that told me I was beautiful. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Richard Brautigan. On the back of his book Trout Fishing in America it just simply says the word “Mayonnaise” I knew when I picked up that book for the 1st time I would love it. So I wanted something simple to convey a message to someone who may only have my book in their hand for 4 seconds before putting it back on the shelf. The poems are emotive. Dealing with love and lost love and a dark childhood. A lotus flower of beauty that bloomed out of the darkness of a hurtful time.

GT: Finally, if you could witness one event in history what would it be?

OW: wow, that’s a hard one. The first thing that popped into my head was to witness the birth of Christ back on December 25th 0000. That would be something. But upon further thought, over Christ, would be seeing The Beatles back in Liverpool before they were huge. I guess John Lennon was right, The Beatles are bigger than Christ.

Kaveh Akbar is the young gun of the Warsaw Indiana School of Poetics and currently resides in West Lafayette, Indiana. He founded The Quirk and has written about music for Scene Point Blank and Spinner. His poetry has been published in The New York Quarterly, Poesy, Word Riot and others. Find him online: Check out The Quirk

Kaveh Akbar

GT: In a poetry slam between you, Oren and Steve, who usually wins and why?

Kaveh Akbar: I don’t know. We sort of have an all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality about it. At lamer venues, Oren always says he feels like Jimi Hendrix at a high school talent show. So let’s say him.

GT: You’ve been working a lot recently on your for-charity literary magazine The Quirk. How has working on The Quirk impacted your poetry?

KA: The Quirk is the best thing I’ve ever done and probably the best thing I’ll ever do. It’s allowed me to dialogue with heroes of mine. Literary legends like Robert Bly, W.D. Snodgrass, Naomi Shihab Nye, Yusef Komunyakaa – people that will be remembered as their generation’s greatest poets. Then, it’s also exposed me to work from underground guys like Todd Moore, Michael Kriesel, Antler, etc. The breadth of work published in The Quirk has very much informed the stylistic diversity of my own work.

GT: So I read in the Showstoppers: 20 Poems from the Midwest Poetry All-Stars chapbook, that you were working on a full-length entitled Calling A Wolf A Wolf, but it is as of now, it is nowhere to be found. What’s the deal?

KA: It’s almost all written, but I’m a lazy college asshole who drinks when he should be writing. It’ll be out whenever I can make myself spend the ass-in-chair time to do it properly.

GT: You’re also a pretty big music fan. Have you ever considered writing song lyrics?

KA: Yeah, I had a short-lived music project for a while called Mr. Kaveh. I’ve also written a couple things here and there. I wrote an album for Titus Andronicus’ guitarist’s solo project that my girlfriend thinks is great.

GT: So I’ve tried to write some poetry, but my biggest problem is that every time I press enter to start a new line, Word automatically capitalizes it. And when I manually uncapitalize the word, there’s always that annoying green squiggly line underline under the word telling me that I’ve made a grammatical error. Do you have any advice?

KA: Use a pencil?

GT: Finally, if you could witness one historical event what would it be?

KA: Assuming the magic genie time-meld would also render me invincible, I think it’d be wild to have been at ground zero in Hiroshima when we dropped the bomb. That, or the Big Bang.

A big thanks to Steve, Oren and Kaveh for their time.

July 22nd, 2011

– Andrew Morris


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